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Full text of "The story of the Ruthenians"

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THE STORY OF THE 
RUTHENIANS 

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— BY— 

Rev. A. J. Hunter, M. D. 

Teulon, Manitoba 



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Published By 

The Board of Home Missions 

Presbyterian Church in Canada 




A Typical Ruthenian Home 



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Ruthenian Women just from the Old Land 



THE STORY OF THE 

RUTHENIANS united chukch 

ARCHIVES 
1. Who are the Ruthenians? 

Ten or fifteen years ago the problem of the 
races in Canada was very simple. There were 
two leading races — the English speaking and the 
French, but, in the last few years, many other 
races have been coming forward to share with us 
the bounties of our wonderful country. 

The most important class of these foreign 
peoples who have recently come among us are the 
immigrants of Slavonic races from Eastern Aus- 
tria and from Russia: most numerous among 
these are the people popularly called the Gali- 
cians. Some of our country folks have sup- 
posed that they must be the same people to whom 
Paul wrote his famous epistle, and so they call 
them "Galatians". This notion, however, is a 
mistake ; they come not from Galatia in Asia 
Minor, but from the Austrian Province of 
Galicia, which lies on the borders of Russia. 
Thus immigrants may be either Poles, or Ger- 
mans, or Ruthenians, or Jews — all coming from 
Galicia. Galicia is only the name of the Province 
they happened to inhabit. 

Now, of these Galician immigrants to Canada 
the most numerous apparently are the Ruthenians 
their number is estimated to be nearing the quar- 
ter million mark. The name •'Ruthenian" is a 
modification of the word "Russian". The Rus- 
sian nation is divided into three great groups; 
the Great Russians, the White Russians and the 
Little Russians The Ruthenians are the Little 
Russians. Most of them live in the L T kraine, in 
Russia, but there are a few millions of them in 
Austria and a million or more scattered in the 
United States, Canada and Brazil; their total 
number is thirty millions. They are in truth the 
original Russians, they gave their name to Rus- 
sia ; they were the first to become civilized, but 
incessant wars and internal dissensions crushed 
their efforts at progress, and for centuries their 



nationality has been kept in darkness by the 
Poles on one side, and the Great Russians on the 
other. 




Prince Vladimir of Kiev. 



II. Christianity Among the Ruthenians. 

Christianity was introduced among the 
Ruthenians as far back as the close of the tenth 
century, during the reign of the famous Prince 
Vladimir of Kiev. Many stories are told about 
Vladimir and his acceptance of Christianity. It 
is said that he sent a delegation around to various 
countries to examine the different forms of relig- 
ion and report which was best. The delegates 



were most impressed by the service in the great 
church of St. Sophia in Byzantium, (now Con- 
stantinople), where, they said they heard angels 
singing in the choir. Vladimir, having decided 
to accept Christianity as represented by the 
Greek church, had priests and bishops brought 
from Byzantium, and the people were marched 
into the river and were baptised wholesale. 

Such was the beginning of Christianity am- 
ong the Ruthenians, and for centuries they re- 
mained true to the Greek Orthodox Church of 
Russia and the East, but, somewhere in the 
thirteenth century, Galicia was lost to Russia 
and passed under the control of Poland. From 
that time to this an unceasing campaign of pro- 
selytising has been carried on amongst them to 
bring them over to the Roman Catholic Church. 

About the year 1595 a number of Ruthenian 
bishops who resented the exactions of the Eastern 
Metropolitans and Patriarchs, and the demo- 
cratic organizations of church brotherhoods, 
secretly made an agreement with Rome, by which 
they were to acknowledge the authority of the 
Pope, but were to keep the Greek ritual and cus- 
toms, including the marriage of the priests. Thus 
began the UN I AT church, Greek in its form of 
worship, but open always to, and dominated by, 
Roman Catholic influence and suggestions, and 
treated as a temporary half way house between 
the Greek Church and the Roman. Rome was 
successful in spite of strenuous opposition of a 
large number of Ruthenian people and clergy 
who resented the Romish rule. 

By strange happenings in the destiny of 
Poland, this country was, in later years, divided 
up among Prussia, Austria and Russia. Galicia 
passed into the hands of Roman Catholic Austria, 
and the rest of the Ukraine to Greek Orthodox 
Russia. While under Polish rule in the Ukraine, 
strenuous efforts were made to bring the people 
over to Rome. No sooner had the Ukraine passed 
under the control of Russia than the people were 
with even less ceremony herded back into the 
Orthodox fold. 



III. Ruthenians in America. 

The beginning of Ruthenian immigration to 
the United IS tates dates back about half a century, 
although it was only twenty years ago, or there- 
abouts, that the first representatives of the race 
began to make their appearance in Canada. 

The religious history of the Ruthenians in 
America has been a very checkered one. The 
Roman Church, of course, asserted its claim on 
the people in virtue of the Union with Rome. 
But the people claimed the rights which this 
Union gave them, especially the rights of having 
married priests. This the Roman church has re- 
fused to allow. Further, the Roman Catholic 
authorities have insisted on bringing the Ruthen- 
ian priests under the authority of the local 
Bishops who were usually either French or Irish. 
This has caused some trouble. Then, the Roman 
Catholic Church regularly demanded the title of 
the church property to be made over to the 
Bishop, but the people in the United States and 
Canada, getting infected with democratic ideas, 
quite frequently refused this. 

These are only a few of the numerous sources 
of friction which have disposed the Ruthenians on 
this continent to break away from the Roman 
Union, and either go over to the Orthodox 
Church of Russia or to form independent bodies, 
or even to listen favourably to Protestant teach- 
ing. It may be said that liberal and Protestant 
ideas are spreading among them very rapidly, but 
it must be remembered that there is a vast gap 
between our ways of thinking and theirs, and, 
that, on the whole, we must look forward to a 
long task of love and patience before we can bring 
these vast masses of people into true and living 
sympathy with our ideals and aspirations. 

IV. Canadian Ruthenians and the 
Presbyterian Church. 

In Canada one of the outstanding results of 
the Ruthenian resentment of Rome rule and the 
influence of our democratic institutions is the 
very important and influential movement rep- 
resented by the so-called Independent Greek 



Church of Canada. This movement for the last 
ten years has been assisted and fostered by the 
Presbyterian Church. Leading men from 
among the Ruthenians had repeatedly been ap- 
proaching our Home Mission authorities in Win- 
nipeg, asking for advice and help. Finally an 
understanding was reached between the two 
churches, on the basis of which Presbyterian help 
was given to the Greek body, while the Indepen- 












1 A i ■ 


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A Protestant Ruthenian Family in Saskatchewan 



dent Greek Church was to teach Protestant doc- 
trine but might keep the Greek Forms of worship 
so far as these were not inconsistent with Pro- 
testant teaching. 

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The relations of the two Churches were much 
handicapped by the fact that none of our men 
knew much Ruthenian, and few of the Ruthen- 
ians knew much English. Then, of course, it 
was hard to know sometimes the character of the 
men who offered themselves for service. But, in 
spite of these difficulties, the new movement has 
shown marvellous vitality and exerted a vast 
influence throughout the Ruthenian communities. 
The Independent Greek missionaries have 
preached, often at the risk of their lives — many 
times have they been threatened with death. 
Only a few months ago one of them, a man of 
most excellent character and ability, was horribly 
murdered by religious fanatics and his wife and 
family left destitute. Since then, several others 
have received threatening letters. The Protes- 
tants of Canada have no idea of what these men 
have done and suffered in our cause. But as far 
as we are concerned, the work has been done al- 
most in silence, for these missionaries spoke a 
foreign language, and amongst us they were 
dumb perforce. 

But what of the future of this movement? 
At the start the wish of many of the Presbyterian 
leaders was that this Independent Church should 
continue independent, and ultimately become a 
self-supporting Ruthenian Church. Then, of 
course, there arose the questions : How long shall 
we require to assist them? Will they not soon 
be able to stand alone? 

Owing to the fact that there were few in- 
terpreters between the nationalities, suspicions 
arose. Some of our Presbyterians began to ask 
why we were paying good Presbyterian dollars 
to help the service of another church, a very 
ritualistic church at that. Then, too, owing to 
the absence of interpreters doubt arose as to the 
sort of doctrine these men were teaching. Who 
should tell us? We had only the word of one or 
two of them who could speak English. 

But let us look at the matter on the other 
hand from the standpoint of the missionary of the 
Independent Greek Church. He was told at the 
start that the Presb3'terian Church would give 

8 



him a salary of $40 a month as a colporteur, but 
that he would be expected to get part of his in- 
come from the field, and it was hinted that, 
after a while, it would be expected that his 
Church would be able to stand alone without 
PresD3'terian assistance. 

Very good. Please remember that the 
Rutkenians expect their priests to be married 
and our Independent Greek man must not sacri- 
fice the principal advantage he has over the un- 
married Jesuit priests who are upholding the 
standard of Rome. So he takes with him a 
wife. He needs a horse and some other things. 
For this he gets an advance to be deducted from 
his salary afterwards. He perhaps manages to 
rent a house in some Galician farmer's back yard, 
and thus, in poverty, without resources, some- 
times with little previous education, withou t books, 
without guidance, he is expected to labor, and this 
among a people who have been accustomed to see 
their clergy rich, powerful and respected. 

If he is in a settlement already favorably dispos- 
ed to Protestant ideas, this problem is easier per- 
haps. He may be able to reform the ritual with- 
out much complaint, but, in many places, any 
great change in the form of service will lead 
to hostility and withdrawal of support Here, of 
course, the matter of human s}^mpathy comes in. 
The old father or grandmother wants to confess 
and receive the comfort of absolution. The poor 
old creatures cannot understand the new argue- 
ments, for their brains are long since stereotyped, 
so the Independent Greek Priest must treat them 
as kindly as he can; but, with the young people, 
he can explain things more fully, gradualh T open- 
ing their eyes to the original meaning of the Gospel. 

But, if the missionary is in a hostile atmosphere, 
it may be Romanist, it may be atheist, it may be 
Russian Orthodox, his position is likely to be very 
unpleasant, for the Ruthenians still being rather 
primitive, and unenlightened in their ideas, some- 
times resort to the most vigorous ways of vanquish- 
ing their opponents, and they find much difficulty 
in distinguishing between a man's views and the 

9 



man himself. If they do not like the minister's 
opinions they are very apt to dislike the minister. 

But how about the matter of support? We 
must remember that these people are used to a 
State-supported Church, they are not educated to 
paying very large contributions voluntarily But 
aside from the support received through tithes or 
Church funds, the Catholic priest derives a large 
part of his revenue in fees for saying masses, per- 
forming baptism, blessing the bread, and such 
things . Now, if the Independent Priest tells the 
people that blessing the bread is all nonsense, he 
gets no more fees for blessing the bread. If he 
tells them that masses do not help the souls of 
the dead, another part of the priest's revenue is 
gone. In short every movement towards Protest- 
antism that he makes makes his livelihood, for 
the time being at least, the more uncertain and 
precarious. 

When we consider these facts, we have good 
reason to admire these men for the heroic way 
in which they have steadily kept leading their 
people toward the fuller light. Their teaching 
is now thoroughly Protestant and Evangelical. 
It is no mild, cringing, apologetical Protestant, 
ism either, but has a boldness and fierceness 
worthy of Knox or Luther. In fact some of our 
good brethren would probably think that our 
friends' zeal would be better of a little constrain- 
ing guidance at times. But then, we are ourselves 
some centuries removed from the time of the 
stern reformation struggle and have forgotten 
how our ancestors used to feel. 

But now is the critical time for the Ruthen- 
ian people. A quarter of a million of them here 
are trembling in the balances. A hundred wild 
notions are in their brains. Their minds are 
moved hither and thither as the autumn leaves 
in the changing winds. The doctrines of 
materialistic socialism and atheism are running 
rampant among them. On the other side the 
Roman Church is pouring in men and money in 
the endeavour to regain its hold. The Orthodox 
Church of Russia has its representatives. All 

10 



UNITED CHUflCMi 
ARCHIVES 

over the country groups of radicals and indepen- 
dents with various motives, leaning either to 
Protestantism or to socialism are developing 
missionary energy. 

Many of these have got the Congregational- 
ist notion of absolute freedom of the local con- 
gregation from outside control, hence these are 
disposed to resent Presbyterian influence just as 
they would the influences of other churches. 
But, unfortunately, some of these movements are 
in the hands of uncsrupulous men who wish to 
lead loose lives and to have ministers who will 
prophesy smooth things. 

On the whole, the condition is precisely 
parallel to the condition of affairs in China at the 
present time. It is the breaking up of the old 
while the new is struggling to be born. 

Amidst it all the Independent Greek Minis- 
ters are feeling lonely and discouraged. They 
feel, almost without exception, that their present 
position is unteuable. There is no standing 
ground for them between the old Catholic position 
and the thoiough-going Protestantism. Practi 
ically all of them want to come over to the Pres- 
byterian Church. As it is they have been giving 
some of the best years of their lives to this hard 
and dangerous task. Amid the present conditions 
self-support from among the people is out of the 
question, and will be for some years to come ex- 
cept in a very few localities. Who would think 
of sending Protestant missionaries to the Catho- 
lic populations of South America and expect them 
to begin by asking the people for support? The 
case is no different here, except that we have a very 
large proportion of the people favorably disposed 
and willing to listen to what we have to say. 
Some will subscribe fairly liberally for church buil- 
dings, and so on. Others will not put their names 
down but will give a dollar or two privately. 
These, like thousands of others, have been scared 
away from us by the stories industriously circu- 
lated among them, that if the Presbyterians once 
get their names, they will soon come and take 
their farms away from them, or make them pay 
annual tithes, or some other terrible thing. But 

11 



•r-JST" 

surely every body ^cnows how difficult it is to get 
even English or Scotch people who have been used 
to a State-church to pay very much for the pa9- 
or's support. 

In the present wild religious unrest among the 
Ruthenians, it is imperative that our representative 
should be secure from financial worry, and should 
be able to live in a way to command the respect of 
the people. In spite of all our talk about the beauty 
of self-denial, the plain truth is that our own people 
are too apt to look down on a shabby minister, and 
it is no different with the Ruthenians. 

We have already spent a good deal of money 
on this work . We cannot afford to drop it. Of 
course, if we had had things all our own way, and 
there had been no competing advisers, things 
would have been very much nicer from our stand- 
point. But it is hardly the Presbyterian way to 
drop a thing j ust because it proves to be a little bit 
difficult. We praise the heroism of our early 
missionaries in India and China who toiled for 
years with hardly any visible fruit for their 
labours. Why should we fail our friends of the 
Independent Greek Church who have already 
opened the Gospel to thousands? These men 
have been fighting our battles for years, living in 
constant financial worries, often surrounded by 
enemies who denounce them fiercely as traitors 
to their religion and nationality, and hirelings of 
the Presbyterian Church. They are ridiculed for 
calling themselves Independents when they are 
really dependent on the bounty of the Presby- 
terians. And these things hurt. They do not 
want to be hirelings. They say if we must fight 
the battles of Presbyterianism, then let us call 
ourselves Presbyterians, and let us know that 
the Presbyterian Church is really going to be with 
us to the end. 

And surely our Church cannot abandon either the 
men or the work without undying disgrace. For 
Canadian Protestantism to permit it to be abandon- 
ed at this stage would be incredible folly. That 
vast body of Rutheniar s in the hands of a scheming 
hierarchy would be a menace to the liberty of every 
Canadian. If we do our duty from now on, that 
danger will surely be escaped. 

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